Mitch Joel wrote my biography for the last seven years the other day when he described the Chief Marketing Technologist, a person in a company who is both in marketing and IT. That’s what I’ve been doing for years and years, bridging the gap between marketing and technology, helping each world understand the other and helping both worlds get aligned. In some cases, I’ve simply created the strategy, and in other cases, I was slinging the code to achieve the actual end goal.
The question a lot of people were left with is – okay, how do you get there? How do you create the person or develop yourself professionally to be that person who is exceedingly rare (and thus exceedingly valuable)?
Let’s frame it this way: how and why. A technomarketer (the pinnacle of which is the Chief Marketing Technologist) has to understand the why: why you’re doing something. Marketing provides the why, the mission, the reason, and the goal. Marketing says, we need to achieve a certain presence on Twitter or build a CRM process that gets leads and passes them to sales for processing.
Technology provides the how: what tools you’re going to use, what methodologies, and what pieces you need. Technology constrains the marketing insofar as saying what’s practical and what’s a pipe dream, then specifies the actual skill sets and architecture needed to make the marketing happen.
So how do you get started? Well, are you a technologist who wants to learn marketing and understand the why of what you do? Start taking business and marketing courses, consume every scrap of useful marketing information available out on the Web, and practice your marketing skills. Grab the Portable MBA on Marketing and learn the hell out of it. Most important, practice. Find a local non-profit or charity who is doing no digital marketing and ask to volunteer, on the understanding that it will be a learning experience for both.
What if you’re a marketer who wants to understand technology? The path is equally clear and very similar. Start taking technology courses and reading up on the technologies you’ll need to implement or might want to implement. I’ll suggest that a great starting point is learning the programming language PHP, as it’s open source and “easy to learn, difficult to master”. Many of the most popular web sites and web services today run on PHP, and after a very short time, you’ll need to learn the MySQL database language as a companion. Grab PHP and MySQL for Dummies as a good starting point, buy a dirt cheap web hosting site, and start building something. Once you’ve gotten the basics down, look at understanding and modifying a well known platform like WordPress, maybe installing and customizing your blog. After you’ve learned and mastered the basics, find a local non-profit or charity doing no digital marketing and offer to volunteer to help build their digital marketing program.
Ultimately, you need to be equally proficient at each “tree” or specialization in order to be a truly effective technomarketer. You have to be able to sit in a marketing meeting and talk about your Q4 email campaign and then be able to return to your desk, fire up Dreamweaver, and actually start creating the content for it. Likewise, you need to be able to sit in a developers’ meeting and understand what’s going on, why, and be able to offer competent suggestions about features and ways to implement them.
One important point I can’t emphasize enough: you can’t get there by reading blogs and web sites. Both specializations require book learning, to be sure, but both specializations then require you to depart the ivory tower (or ivory web, as it were) and put into practice the knowledge. There are no courses, textbooks, blogs, or social media sites in the world that can present you with the real-life marketing and technology challenges that only practice and authentic experience can provide. That’s why I emphasize finding a local non-profit that does no digital marketing: this is likely an organization that you can’t substantially harm but could substantially benefit, even with meager, new skills.
The path of a technomarketer isn’t easy at all. There are precious few individuals who can speak in both worlds, but those individuals’ rarity and abilities make them worth far more than the sum of their skillsets. Hire one if you can, develop one professionally if you can’t, and become one if you want a real adventure that’s as rewarding as it is challenging.
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